The Voiceless Decades

I still believe there is nothing you can change from outside;
you can scream your head off, you can fight
and no-one is going to take any damn notice if they don’t want to.
Someone within the system has to stand up
and put forward an idea or say something is wrong.
If you’re inside the system you can influence the decision-makers. I know, I have done it.
Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal Australian to be elected to federal Parliament as a Liberal Senator for Queensland1

The Voiceless Decades

We have been conditioned to believe in systematic racism. At the same time, our colonial past is argued to be one cause of poverty, victimisation and over-incarceration of Aboriginal people; however, these are not related. The voiceless majority of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people are not to blame

Nonetheless, we are pitted against each other to make it easy to divide and conquer. In other words, it is easier to control people if they are fighting each other, rather than as a united force focused on the cause of our discontent.

It might be surprising to discover the solution has nothing to do with altering the Constitution, creating a Voice to parliament, treaties and/or more government control. The solution lies in ending the double standards, economic apartheid (especially land title), improving mobility, focusing on our right to parliamentary representation, and personal decision-making.

For the past 20 years, those responsible for these failures have been a small elite group of Aboriginal people who have designed and managed the implementation of our policies and legal frameworks, and this Aboriginal elite has partnered with green billionaire sponsors with significant media, legal and political influence.

The National Indigenous Australian Agency released its interim Report outlining a proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. It was written as part of the co-design process, launched by Minister Wyatt in November 2019, and it outlines the structure and practical purposes of the Voice:

[A] National Voice would have a broad scope to advise on nationally significant matters of critical importance to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.2

However, the report fails to outline many fundamental concerns, because an Indigenous Voice could become a parallel system of parliamentary representation, conferring political rights onto a class of people which are not available to other Australians. In other words, it would be based on race. In effect, it could become a reproduction of a third chamber of Parliament for indigenous Australians, giving it the power to exercise an informal veto over laws debated in the Parliament. However it could be worse because this group could falsely claim to be speaking on behalf of Aboriginal people when it is not representative of the views of all of us.

For many decades these elites have had exclusive access to decision making and extensive financial resources, despite not having a significant base and/or achieved positive results. This elite group is selected by people of influence and public commentary is reluctant to question their authority for fear of being accused of racism. Many have been labelled racist and the effects of this does not end there. Voiceless people on the ground and many others do not understand why the same people hold power. These people do not generally volunteer or contribute to their communities and most do not work with people on the ground. They are not known and elders have had bad experiences with them, as many display an arrogance which comes with untapped power and the ability to attract public funding without accountability. The outcomes are obvious and it is worsening, despite the fact those responsible for the failure, have caused death and loss of human potential and dignity.

This group has been rewarded for maintaining and improving their influence and failures. There are endless positive stories for the Voice in the media and little opposition. For instance few interviews have been conducted with the voiceless elders. This is one reason Aboriginal people were not broadly consulted about the Voice. They must wait until the design has been completed before making a contribution.

Aboriginal social hierarchies are distinct from each other. Australia is composed of many Aboriginal nations stretching from above Antarctica in Tasmania to the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. Nonetheless there are shared cultural values and social practices. For instance, there is no word in Aboriginal languages for race. Relationships are determined by the relationship to the land, environment, clan and skin group. From the land, our sounds become our words, our stories become our songs and our songs became our ceremonies, our teachings and our beliefs become our laws. We are strong. We know who we are, wherever we go.

The voices of Indigenous people on the ground are valuable and deserve to be heard. As each Aboriginal culture is unique, it is therefore integral to be culturally sensitive to the variations between regions and communities; to know variable community needs and be able to implement required communication essentials. The value of conducting regular community engagements to encourage feedback and to facilitate the measurement of outcomes and effectiveness cannot be underestimated. This process is too often ignored.

It is a fact voices on the ground are rarely heard and the so-called Aboriginal leadership which governments and corporations consult are often disconnected from the communities they claim to represent. Hence the money, resources and programs often fail to reach communities and/or the people where it is most needed. To compound this, there is a growing number of Aboriginal identity fraud claims which is causing ingrained harm and also generating anger because Aboriginal people assume the government and by association the Australian people, does not care.

If the Voice goes ahead, it will have devastating consequences for Aboriginal people and for the broarder Australian community. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) was well placed to run a National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force (NIITF). It is the only criminal intelligence agency with the national footprint and access to specialised capabilities, such as coercive powers to collect, analyse and provide information regarding abuse of power, child abuse and other crimes affecting Indigenous communities.

The Indigenous Intelligence Task Force 2007 to 2014 visited 145 Indigenous communities, 58 regional towns and held almost 2000 stakeholder meetings. It found widespread abuse of power and connections with organised crime within the organisational web of Aboriginal Australia.

Individuals in positions of authority have engaged in child abuse, violence, fraud and the distribution of alcohol and illicit substances.3

Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals linked to these groups have been identified in drug trafficking and financial criminal activities in regional and remote communities.4

I have more than 20 years experience on the ground and have worked as a Crown Prosecutor. I often found fake Aboriginal people holding the power in Aboriginal communities and using fear, intimidation tactics and applying double standards.

The in-depth ACC investigation in Aboriginal communities focused on the causes, particularly the way crime had been allowed to flourish. Some of its conclusions have been classified as sensitive, and 65 of the 66 reports have never been made public. It found financial crimes and exploitation of Indigenous organisations occurred in every jurisdiction, and was likely to increase in remote communities, which were particularly vulnerable.

It also found there were incentives for organised crime groups to exploit Indigenous organisations, which was likely to remain high because it was correlated with real and/or perceived low risk of detection. Some executive officers of Indigenous corporations were found to have been bribed, had influenced Board members and exploitation of payments from mining royalties, and Indigenous Land Use Agreements within Native Title were likely to continue.5

Indigenous program funding is significant, and also vulnerable to financial crime and exploitation. It is estimated government expenditure in Indigenous communities is approximately $33 billion each year, and remoteness has been said to allow offenders to seek employment with other organisations after their criminal activity and exploitation has been detected. This behaviour is often facilitated by the reluctance of some community Board members to make complaints and/or cooperate with regulatory authorities, and/or these authorities fail to act.

The latest Productivity Commission report written in 2015 reveals direct government spending on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is estimated to be $33.4 billion, which amounts to $44,886 for each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, compared to $22,356 each for non-Indigenous Australians. These figures will likely increase in 2021.

It also found some Indigenous corporations continue to be exploited by Board members wishing to advance personal, family and/or group interests. These members pressure officeholders to approve programs and/or policies and often, not for the benefit of the organisation and/or community. Officeholders face pressure to submit to the authority of the Board, or face employment termination.

None of these concerns have been addressed, and the people running these organisations have not been held accountable, and many have been the stakeholders in agreeing to the Voice. Before I was removed from the Wyatt Senior Advisory Committee, I was aware that many people involved in the Uluru Statement were accused of being involved in serious criminal offences, so I requested a Crimes Commission and AFP briefing from  the Co-Chair, Marcia Langton. Ms Langton not only denied it — she threatened to remove me.

Native Title: A Colossal Failure

Australia introduced the Native Title Act in July 1977; however, the effect of it began in 1996, when the Native Title Act 1993 law was passed by Parliament. The purpose was to provide a national system for the recognition and protection of native title, and for it to co-exist with the national land management system. In the second reading of the Native Title Act 1993 speech, Paul Keating said:

Today we move that much closer to a united Australia which respects this land of ours, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provides justice and equality for all.

He concluded by saying,

Already, in the process of developing the Bill, we have learned a great deal about each other and how to work together. We have extended the frontier of our mutual understanding.

Perhaps the most outstanding, but by no means the only, example of this has been the participation of representatives of the combined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organisation Working Party in the unprecedented negotiations leading to this legislation.

In hailing what she termed ‘a remarkable settlement and historic agreement’, Lois O’Donoghue, the Chairperson of ATSIC said and I quote, ‘indigenous affairs will never be the same again in our nation’. It is for that reason above all, that I commend this bill to the House. I present the explanatory memorandum.6

Unfortunately, this legislation is best described as a colossal failure of common sense, designed by the same elite group of six Aboriginals who designed the Voice, and who were the same group invited to negotiate with Prime Minister Keating. There was no process, and communities must live with the consequences, none of which can be described as sensible.

It has resulted in family fights, which were not a problem previously. For example, my mother told me there were only two families involved, and Pacific Islander groups who had falsely claimed Aboriginal heritage became involved. $10 million was on offer, and this group took it. The funds were never seen again.

From an economic perspective, Native Title has provided Aboriginal Australians with no independence, and simultaneously mining titles which previously gave title have now severely diminished. The Act has been poorly drafted and has removed useful functions.

Native Title is now untransferable and therefore land cannot be sold or mortgaged, and it is unclear about ownership, geographic extent and conferred rights. It has proven useless to Aboriginal people and a nightmare for investors, because of the uncertainty. It has cost our nation productivity, opportunities, and employment, and gives Aboriginal people no rights to become economically independent.7

Gary Foley, an Aboriginal activist, academic, writer and actor, was part of a group who in 1972 established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern. He has said,

The Native Title Act [is a] fraud. It was negotiated by a group of unrepresentative swill – unelected, self-appointed or government appointed. Keating said, we’d better find some Aboriginal people to negotiate with, we’ll have you, you and you.

This is the manner in which the so called A-team of Aboriginal negotiators came about. An incompetent bunch they were. The Professor of Indigenous Studies at Melbourne University, Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson … these people are not mugs, and yet they signed off…

We saw Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton and Lois O’Donohue up there in Parliament clinking champagne glasses, patting themselves on the back, patting Paul Keating on the back, saying this was one of the greatest things in the history of Aboriginal Australia.8

These same people have been involved with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which proved to be a failure and cost billions of dollars. It has achieved little and has not improved the quality of life for Aboriginal people. It must not be allowed to reoccur. There has been a lack of accountability, inefficient organisation and a squandering of public funds, with consequent hostility from mainstream Australia.

Rampant Corruption

I remember sitting outside a ministerial office at Parliament House with a relative around the age of 11, when an Aboriginal woman came out in conversation and mutual agreement. I recall hearing Aboriginal women complaining about the corruption, gambling, drunkenness and bad behaviour of the elected members, who made many non-Indigenous Australians Aboriginal people in order to increase their vote and ensure their return to power. I recall this lady saying,

John Howard has so many black fellas ringing him, telling him to close it down, but he has no choice.

Most of the ATSIC members had high-paying Aboriginal positions. One man went on to run the State Aboriginal Land Council, which holds a billion dollars in cash, but cannot maintain the repairs and maintenance of their housing stock, and he does not make it easy for Aboriginal Land Council members to own land.

Then-Commonwealth Ombudsman Philippa Smith AM said this man should never hold a commonwealth role again, yet he went on to be the CEO of the National Congress of Australian First Peoples, which spent $38 million in a few years, and is now the CEO of one of the wealthiest Land Councils in New South Wales.

This is after he engaged in corrupt procurement practices at Burnt Bridge Aboriginal Reserve, which has caused the community to suffer for decades from substandard housing and the mismanagement of housing allocation. ATSIC allowed bullying and rioting, which resulted in a relative of mine almost dying.

No publicly-funded organisation should consider itself immune from accountability. Yet, ATSIC sidestepped accountability by hiding behind the veil of racism.

During 25 years of change, things remain unchanging and the flow of public money continues to reach the same Aboriginal elite industries, and voiceless Aboriginal people and the public are called racist. The Uluru Statement concludes with an oratory elaboration: In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. There has been $55 million spent on this Uluru process, and Aboriginal people on the ground have not been consulted.

Despite the millions of dollars showered upon these elite Aboriginal groups over the past 50 years, there has been little improvement in the real problems, such as economic improvement, housing affordability, education, and the safety of our children.

Attempts to separate Australians must be rejected. All Australians are equal. I am calling for Aboriginal funding to be cut and for the system to be redesigned. I am inviting the government to stop allowing Aboriginal elites and their green funders to force decisions upon us. The Constitution should not be rewritten to divide us. Lest we forget, we belong to the land.

Bayami creation the great spirit with you. In the beginning Bayami stepped from the sky to create the land, to form mountains and valleys, to fill rivers with water and to create all living things.

Everything Bayami created has a purpose, plants were placed on the land and men and women at special places. He made the first laws governing the way Aboriginal people lived and these laws have remained unchanged for thousands of years on this magical continent.

Bayami remained to make certain all living things he created lived together harmoniously. When he was satisfied, he had achieved his purpose, he stepped into the sky from which he came, where he remains watching over his people and this magical land, we call Australia.10

I am proposing the following:

  1. No Voice to Parliament.
  2. No constitutional changes.
  3. The dismantling of Aboriginal legislative processes.
  4. The abolishment of race funding.
  5. Aboriginal families be allowed to transfer Land Council land to individual ownership.
  6. The abolishment of Native Title.
  7. To return some freehold title to local traditional owners.
    Freehold land can be held in a mainstream legal entity and used to establish local businesses. Traditional owners become shareholders and can  use the land. It can be based on the Alaskan model.11 Government and agencies can hold land in trust for Aboriginal people and fund it for five to ten years. In 2019, it was reported the Alaska Native Corporations accounted for 16.7% of the Alaskan gross domestic product, which accounts for over one-fifth (21.8%) GDP. Alaskan Native Corporations accounted for 68.8% of Alaskan-based jobs12 and none have failed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.13 Although there have been amendments to the legislation, it has been a remarkable success.
    In 2019, Anthony Drabek, a member of the Koniag Board and former CEO of Natives of Kodiak Inc, wrote a piece in the Anchorage Daily News, declaring it had changed his life and the future of Alaska: “My ancestral homeland and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA helped me rebuild my life. Enrolment under ANCSA had just begun in 1970, when I came home to Kodiak after four years as a U.S. Army aviator and two combat tours.”14
  8. The mapping of Aboriginal Australia. It is doubtful whether the federal Aboriginal Affairs department would be able to answer a simple question about individual community resources, literacy and housing availability and/or computer literacy competence in regional and remote communities. In other words, there is a need to map community needs, facilities, expertise, capabilities and more.
  9. Form Agreements with the people on the ground.
  10. Abolish organisational interference.

___

References:

  1. Angela Kay Burger (1979), Neville Bonner, a biography, Macmillan, p. 31.
  2. The National Indigenous Australian Agency (2020), Australian Government Interim Report Outlining A Proposal Of An Indigenous Voice To Parliament, p. 10.
  3. Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force (NIITF), ‘The Final Report Of The National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force 2006-2014’, p. 16.
  4. Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force (NIITF), ‘The Final Report Of The National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force 2006-2014’, p. 22.
  5. Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force (NIITF), ‘The Final Report Of The National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force 2006-2014’, p. 22.
  6. Native Title Bill 1993, Second Reading, Parliament of Australia, 16 November 1993, House Hansard, p. 2877.
  7. Deloitte Access Economics, ‘Review of the Roles and Functions of Native Title Organisations’.
  8. Gary Foley (2005), ‘The Struggle For Aboriginal Rights’, Socialist Alternative.
  9. The Uluru Statement From The Heart (2017), National Constitutional Convention.
  10. Josephine Cashman, (2019), “Do Indigenous Philosophies Present An Opportunity To Address Poverty?
  11. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Of 1971, Public Law pp. 92-203, ‘History And Analysis Together With Subsequent Amendments.’
  12. Alaska Native Corporations’ Success Is Noteworthy for Jobs & Revenue‘, Power The Future (2019).
  13. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Wikipedia.
  14. Anthony Drabek, ‘ANCSA changed my life — and Alaska’s future’, Anchorage Daily News, 2019.

___

Originally published at One Voice Australia.
Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash.

About the Author:

Josephine Amy Cashman is an Aboriginal Australian lawyer and entrepreneur, of Warrimay heritage. Cashman was an inaugural member of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council in 2013, appointed by Tony Abbott. She addressed a UN Human Rights Council session focussing on violence against Indigenous girls and women.

Josephine is a former Crown Prosecutor, a lawyer and a businesswoman with more than two decades of experience working on the ground towards economic progress for Aboriginal people. She sits on the Board of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. In recognition of her commitment, she was selected as a friend of the Commonwealth Treasury in 2016 and in 2018, she was an honoured recipient of the UTS Faculty of Law Alumni Award for Excellence. She has undertaken numerous consultancy and voluntary roles for a variety of private, public and not-for-profit organisations.

In 2016, Josephine founded the Big River Impact Foundation (BRIF), which is an Indigenous philanthropic entity committed to community involvement in decision making and economic freedom for Aboriginal people. BRIF aims to transition Indigenous people away from welfare dependency towards economic freedom by encouraging participation in training programs, local business opportunities, community-centred employment opportunities and the stimulation of community-led economic development.

Josephine has also been organising a campaign, One Voice Australia, which is committed to a united Australia.

Leave A Comment